Sunday, November 05, 2006

"The Gravity Was All Wrong."

Lyda is teaching an SF class at The Loft in Minneapolis this semester, and I'm taking it for the fun of spending time with SF from an intellectual standpoint and because Lyda's fun to hang around with and an enjoyable teacher. (No, I'm not being graded, so there's no ulterior here.)

Anyway, a few weeks back, we were talking about the "Distancing Move," or, as Lyda called it, the "Eyeball Kick." It's that line at the beginning of a story that says "FYI: This is going to be an SF/Fantasy/Cyberpunk/Et cetera story", without actually being that direct. These are some of my favorite lines, and, I think, are often the most fun to speculate from as a jumping off point for story generation. Someone in the class asked for an example, and off the top of my head I threw out the title above. It begs the questions "How was the gravity all wrong?"; "How could you/she/he/they tell that it was wrong?"; "What does that mean for this world? (or are we on some sort of space station? In a dream? Alternate universe?)"; and "Where are we that the gravity could be changed, or different from expectations?" It is clearly an observation by someone, because of the somewhat colloquial "all wrong"; "The gravity was off" would carry a similar eyeball kick, though in my opinion it has a lower suspense quotient because it generate fewer questions--and I believe that most good opening lines should make hook your reader by making them ask essential questions right away. (Not the only thing an opening line should.can do, but, in my mind, clearly one of the most important.) Beginning a story with this particular line also has the effect of implying that the observation is fresh and new, since gravity is something, assumedly, to which we would acclimate after a period of time. It has the effect of saying "This world is different, and I'm just notiicing that myself." It effectively distances the reader from their own world, but brings them along with it into the new world you are offering.

What distancing moves do you like to see, or use, and why? Do opening lines function for you in a different way, and how?

4 comments:

Kelly McCullough said...

I don't know, The gravity was off makes for an awfully good starting point if you read it the other way. Who turned the gravity off? Why did they turn it off? Did the gravity generating mechanism fail?

Sean M. Murphy said...

True. But it sets you, pretty squarely, in space--either on a station or a ship. I'm not saying that it's not a good starter, just that it limits the setting a bit more than "The gravity was all wrong" does. On a planet(oid), we'd be more likely to say that the gravity was gone, or that there was no gravity--or that it was "all wrong"--than that it was "off," which suggests a mechanism, a switch or control of some sort. And I don't think most people would read that as "off kilter," though I love the nuances of "off" in that phrasing.

Kelly McCullough said...

That's only true if you limit yourself to a subset of hard science fiction. I write a lot of fantasy, and shutting the gravity off can certainly happen on planet if you allow for magic or for a number of highly fantastic science fiction scenarios. In fact that might make for a lovely reversal of reader expectations.

Sean M. Murphy said...

You're right, though I think I still have alittle wiggle room in my argument, in that its use would primarily be as an expectation reversal, which implies that the audience is going to make an assumption in the direction that I'm suggesting it will, and that you are going to play with that assumption. Funny, because I joked to Lyda after that particular class that I would likely have decided to use ""gravity" in the sense of "solemnity"--another sort of reversal, though more word-play oriented than world-play oriented.